Chronic fatigue is not new.  Hammurabi wrote about it 4000 years ago, and over the centuries it has been referred to by many names including febricula,  neurasthenia, myalgic encephalomyelitis,  chronic Epstein-Barr Virus, and even  “yuppie flu.”  In the 1980’s, however, so many people sought attention for chronic debilitating fatigue that the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health felt obliged to look into the problem further.  It soon became apparent that this was a real illness – not imagined or psychological – with four cardinal characteristics:  pain, difficulty thinking, debilitating fatigue, and a sleep disorder.  In 1988 a panel of experts defined the illness and named it Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or CFS), after the one symptom that was common to all the sufferers -- the fatigue.  As we learned more about this illness it became popularly known as CFIDS (or Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome), and more recently ME (for Myalgic Encephalopathy). 

We will refer to the condition using both the scientific and popular terms, or CFS/ME.


To date there is no known cause for CFS/ME although the majority of cases occur abruptly and usually associated with a flu-like illness. The vast majority of victims apparently are under great emotional or physical stress at the onset of illness, which leads many to believe that stress may predispose to this illness.


CFS/ME affects many systems in the body, including the brain and central nervous system, the immune system, the musculoskeletal system, hormones, and probably the heart and lungs as well.  As a result, persons with CFS, or PWCs, have many symptoms involving multiple body systems.  The cardinal symptoms are muscle and joint pain; headaches; trouble with thinking concentrating, and memory;  and disrupted or non-refreshing sleep.  The fatigue is profound, debilitating, and typically lasts for days after overexertion, a phenomenon called post-exertional malaise.


Other common symptoms include dry eyes or mouth, jaw pain or TMJ tenderness, earaches, abdominal cramping or pain, bloating, frequent queasiness or nausea, diarrhea, new alcohol intolerance, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, chronic cough, shortness of breath, dizziness, morning stiffness, night sweats, temporary odd sensations or tingling, and new psychological problems like irritability, depressed mood and anxiousness.


CFS/ME occurs in all age groups although the majority fall between puberty and old age, with a median age of 45 and a female predominance. CFS/ME is seen worldwide, but may be more prevalent in Blacks and Latinos than Caucasians and Asians. Remarkably, more than three-quarters of individuals who have CFS/ME have no been diagnosed and treated by a physician. Like you they have been unable to put a label on the problem, or they cannot find supportive medical help.



There are no physical findings that are typical of CFS/ME, and currently there is no diagnostic test.  The diagnosis must be made by first excluding other possible causes for your symptoms, then meeting specific guidelines and symptoms.